Saturday, 22 February 2020

Winter’s Tale

Winter’s Tale

AUTUMN gazed upon Winter still in slumber.

“Winter, my dear, awaken now. It is time for me to sleep.”

Murmurs of protest rumbled.

“Can’t you stay a little longer, Autumn?”

“Not this year. Cousin Snow is in a fidgety mood and is swirling in the north.”

“Then I will rise and meet her. Goodnight, Autumn.”

Winter cast her gaze to earth, at leafless trees and frost-covered grass, at children going to school, anoraks zipped to their chins, hoods pulled over their heads. Autumn had prepared her coming as usual.

She rose from her grey cloud and called to her cousin North Wind.

“Your sister Snow is coming, so will you blow your icy breath?”

“Of course. I will meet Snow and invite her to dance with me. We can swirl amid the houses and race across the fields, drive the sheep to shelter, keep the rabbits in their burrows and force the robin to tuck his head under his wing. Oh, at last I can enjoy myself.”

“Then off with you. Have fun.”

Winter waited on her cloud. Soon she felt her bed grow damp and then fall in great drops of rain as nephew Light faded into night.

She watched bright lights glow in long criss-crossing trails, making their way to warm homes. She shivered at the thought of warm fires against her beautiful cold.

Saturdays were one of her favourite moments as gardeners lit leafy bonfires, dug their vegetable plots and pruned scraggy trees. They filled her with smoke but Winter knew how to get back at them.

She whispered to uncle Temperature: “Will you ask nephew Light to run away to the farthest corner and call cousin West Wind for her aid?”

“Indeed, yes, Winter, for it is the merriest time to see Flame and Fire joust with us. And, of course, come morning we will be too tired to blow and might sleep for days.”

Winter adored them: “You are the wickedest relations I know.”

Winter rested a while for she was in no hurry to let Wind, Rain or Snow over-tax their strength. Instead, she let Little Chill practise her morning and night games for when she was fully grown.

Little Chill chased away Cloud and played with the stars and breathed her breath around Full Moon to make the coldest hours.

As the longest nights arrived, Winter watched fathers put coloured lights on garden trees, heard voices sing, saw families kiss and hug and close their doors to keep her out. Christmas was here.

She was happy to let them have the quiet peace that settled on the land and she took 40 winks to fortify her until she heard the great bells peel out a new year.

Winter had a new energy; she was in the prime of her time and called to every corner: “Are you ready, my dears? The great season’s ball is about to begin.”

Night’s heavenly ballroom was filled with the orchestra of North-West Wind’s whistling as it rose and dipped.

She called Storm to dance with Snow, called all the little Showers to run and play hide-and-seek amid the mountains, hills and valleys until everywhere was covered in white — villages and towns, seaside and farms. Streams ran under glassy ice and the postman’s red van wheels crunched along the slippery lanes.

Tired and spent, they waved farewell as Dawn rose and brought with her a blue veil and a pale Father Sun.

Winter breathed her silence over all.

“Isn’t this beautiful?” she said. “No mark, no step, no whinny or bark. It is my gift.”

And she held her breath as Father Sun travelled on his crescent, avoiding Moon riding high in her white transparent cloak of day.

Then there was noise, gaiety, shrieks, howls of joy and fun. Dads and boys on toboggans slid down slippery hills, mums and girls in bright bobble hats and gloves rolled Snow into a ball, patted, poked and dressed her as a snowman.

From distant roads, the sounds of car engines and squeaking tyres filled her. Winter rolled away to sit on a lonely cloud, content with her work.

The days grew bleaker and Father Sun retreated into his comfy zone a long way beyond Winter’s cold paradise.

She revelled in the days of grey skies and freezing rain, calling: “Temperature, Ice, come run your fingers down the thermometer.

“Jack Frost, come join in their game and paint windows and bushes white. Glide together, skate over fields and woods, lick roads with colourless film.”

“Winter, dearest, you do not have to ask twice,” they replied in unison.

“February is our favourite time — we are as cold as a deep cavern, as unpredictable as the tallest mountain top and warm as a bed to let the snowdrops bloom.”

Winter loved it all and called beyond the sky: “Cupid, remember your lovers and red roses on their special day.”

Then she curled her winter coat around the foxes in their dens, the chickens in their coops and farm cats in the barns. Old age was making her weary now.

March Wind blew in from the East and announced: “Chirp-chirp, Winter, not time to sleep yet. I’ve brought Russian Cold with me.

“We’re full of puff and can whip round corners and across lakes, blow hats away and, with Rain’s help, turn umbrellas inside out. We pride ourselves on being the best to keep everyone in by the fire toasting crumpets and warming cold feet.”

“You’re so naughty, but my favourite wind,” said Winter. “Perhaps, though, you could be just a little gentler on those yellow daffodils?”

“Do I hear a weary voice, Winter?”

“Just a little, Russian Cold.”

It was time for Winter to stroke Spring’s brow.

“Spring, dear, it is time to awake.”

Spring curled deeper into her cotton wool cloud.

“It grows warmer and lighter, Father Sun is coming to visit. You love his warmth and April’s showers. I am very tired. It is time for me to sleep.”

Spring stretched and said: “Yes, soon the primroses will come out and then the bluebells. Goodnight, Winter, sleep tight.”

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